RELEASE: Legislation Addressing Legal Services Gap for Active Duty Members Passes Senate Policy Committees - Bill expands coordination of pro bono legal services for Active Duty Members and their families
SACRAMENTO – On a 6-0 vote with bipartisan support, Assembly Bill 558, authored by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D–Laguna Beach), passed out of Senate Veterans Affairs Committee July 9, 2019. The bill also received unanimous support in Senate Judiciary Committee on July 2, 2019. AB 558 seeks to fill the need for legal services for active duty military members. Current law requires the California State Bar to coordinate pro bono legal services for veterans. AB 558 expands on current law by directing the State Bar to also coordinate pro bono civil legal services to active duty service members and their families who otherwise cannot afford legal services.
Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris who serves on the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee said, “Active duty military service members and their families are making the greatest sacrifices for our country—AB 558 will ensure they don’t have to worry about legal services.”
Nick Berardino of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County released the following statement: “The Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR) strongly supports AB 558 because the military community has been vastly underserved. There is an immediate need to ensure that their right to legal services is protected.”
Kelli Douglas of the Department of Defense State Liaison Office said, “Service members and their families have limited access to legal assistance attorneys to receive advice and assistance in certain situations, such as handling wills, powers of attorney, simple family law issues and contractual disputes. However, they must generally obtain their own counsel to handle more complex legal actions and to represent them in court in such areas as civil liability, citizenship, immigration, special needs educational concerns and additional areas of family law. In most cases, this would be cost-prohibitive for the 60% of military families that are in the first five enlisted pay grades. Connecting service members and families to organizations providing pro bono legal aid and representation in court would fill a much-needed gap."
Lorraine Plass, 3rd Vice Commander for Legislation for AMVETS-Department of California said, “The young men and women who have volunteered to serve our country in the military face many of the same legal complications in life that civilians do such as divorce, traffic accidents, lease problems, inheritance, etc. However, these service members must also cope with deployment to a war zone, transfer of duty station, and travel for training. When being transferred, they must also transfer their home of record, arrange for schools for the kids, find a house, and the spouse must also change their place of civilian employment. Today’s service members are operating in an increasingly complicated military and civilian world and should not have to forgo proper legal representation because of financial constraints. AB 558 is a step in the right direction and we applaud Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris for her attention to this issue.”